The great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born exactly a hundred years ago. He was born in Lahore, Punjab, at the time part of India under the British domain, today in Pakistan.
Chandrasekhar was stimulated in many ways by his family: his father was a violin player and his mother translated Ibsen in their Tamil language. Chandrasekhar though followed in his uncle on father side’s footsteps: the famous physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, better known as C. V. Raman, who was awarded a Nobel prize for physics in 1930 for his work that includes the Raman effect, not accidentally named after him.
Chandrasekhar could study in Chennai, where he obtained a Bachelor, then in Cambridge and Copenhagen to obtain a Ph.D. in physics in 1933 in Cambridge. His career as a college professor was spent almost completely in Chicago, where he moved in 1937 and lived until his death in 1995.
Chandrasekhar’s research work concerned various topics in relativistic and quantum physics but in particular he studied the stars life with their evolution and especially their death. His name is linked to the Chandrasekhar limit, which is the greatest mass a white dwarf can have – about 1.44 solar masses – beyond which it collapses into a neutron star or a black hole after explonding as a supernova.
In 1983 Chandrasekhar followed in his uncle’s footsteps also in receiving a Nobel prize for physics though he was upset that only his early work about the structure and evolution of stars was mentioned, ignoring the later decades of reasearches.
In 1999 NASA launched the Chandra X-ray Observatory and today in magnetohydrodynamics there’s the Chandrasekhar number. The asteroid 1958 Chandra was named after him as well. The great astronomer Carl Sagan in his essay The Demon-Haunted World recognized Chandrasekhar as a source of inspiration claiming that he discovered what true mathematical elegance is from Chandrasekhar.